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Facilitating School-to-Work Transition: Teacher Involvement and Contributions (MDS-938)

B. J. Schmidt, C. R. Finch, M. Moore

Overview and Focus

Most teachers' current experiences with school-to-work transition are school-based and thus have not included ways that meaningful linkages can be created so students may be assisted in transitioning from school to work. Deep-rooted tradition has led many teachers to view school-based learning as separate from work-based learning. To meet the school-to-work goal of moving from isolated programs to a system that helps large numbers of students successfully transition to work, all school personnel must understand, support, and be actively involved in the effort. To meet this challenge, educators in general and teachers in particular must be provided with opportunities to gain school-to-work related knowledge, instructional expertise, and associated attitudes needed to collaborate in effective ways with employers and the community. Unfortunately, little is known about what teachers must do if they intend to be successful in school-to-work transition settings. As more and more teachers become actively engaged in school-to-work efforts, it is important to know what characteristics they must have and what involvement they should have to make meaningful contributions to students' school-to-work transition.

This study focused on teachers within the context of school-to-work transition. Since successful school-to-work transition can demand a different set of teacher responsibilities than has been the case with traditional education, we posited that teachers engaged in school-to-work transition activities would have a wide range of new and different responsibilities. We thus sought to identify and delineate vocational and academic education teachers' involvement in and contributions to school-to-work transition. Two questions served to further guide our research:

  1. What teacher activities contribute to school-to-work success?
  2. What characteristics must teachers have to conduct successful school-to-work programs?


Information about teacher involvement in and contributions to the facilitation of school-to-work transition was gathered through community profile studies. Since effective school-to-work transition must emphasize school-based learning, work-based learning, and linkages between the two, it was felt to be important that information be gathered from workplace and community representatives as well as educators. In order to establish a broad information base, it was important that persons from the education, workplace, and community subsets of each site be able to provide their respective views and perspectives.

Nominations for community sites were sought through requests made to state school-to-work coordinators throughout the United States. Other officials were contacted based on information identified in the literature about ongoing school-to-work activities in their states. The eleven community sites in eleven different states that were ultimately selected to participate in the study reflected a range of settings from rural to suburban to center city. At these sites, the types of educational institutions we visited ranged from comprehensive high schools to secondary technical centers and technical colleges. At all the locations, schools were actively engaged in school-to-work transition activities and were closely linked with the workplace and the community.

Information was gathered at the sites through interviews with teachers, administrators, counselors, employers, and community representatives. The primary information collection approach was the long interview, with a total of 199 persons interviewed at the eleven sites. Included in the interview protocols were questions and probes designed to assist interviewees in identifying and describing best school-to-work practices teachers had used, including those where teachers worked effectively with employers. The critical-incident technique was utilized in the protocols to assist interviewees identifying and describing teachers' best practices at each site. Analysis centered on identifying meaningful themes associated with teacher school-to-work involvement and contributions that were imbedded in the interview text. To handle the extensive text transcribed from the interviews, The Ethnograph software was used. This software assisted us as we coded, grouped, coded again, and regrouped information according to established and emerging themes. Teacher Activities that Contribute to School-to-Work Success

Each interviewee was questioned about vocational and academic teacher involvement in school-to-work activities. Interviewees were asked to identify teacher school-to-work activities that linked with the workplace; and also to describe one of those activities that made the greatest contribution to student school-to-work transition. Since the persons interviewed consisted not only of educators but business, industry, and community representatives; it was anticipated that a wide range of teacher activities would be discussed. Examination of teacher activities that were mentioned by interviewees resulted in the formation of several meaningful teacher activity themes, each of which offers insight into the range of school-to-work activities that should receive teachers' attention. The following ten themes were identified:

  1. Involving Students in Organized Workplace Experiences
  2. Helping Students To Understand the Workplace
  3. Involving Workplace Representatives in School Curriculum and Instruction
  4. Providing Workplace Experiences for Students Through School Activities
  5. Including a Workplace Focus in School Instruction
  6. Learning about the Workplace in Ways that Contribute to Better Teaching
  7. Working in the Workplace
  8. Initiating and Maintaining Contact with Employers and the Community
  9. Designing Classroom Experiences Around Workplace Expectations
  10. Following up on Current and Former Students Characteristics Teachers Need To Conduct Successful School-to-Work Programs

Interviewees were also asked to describe what characteristics teachers must have to be most successful at organizing and conducting school-to-work programs. To clarify the question, we asked interviewees to describe knowledge, attitudes, and competencies that would help teachers in their school-to-work efforts. As might be expected, the interviewees had a variety of opinions and discussed a broad range of characteristics that we organized into twelve different themes, with two of the them having subthemes. Interviewees not only named the characteristics, but they also provided insight as to why the characteristics are important for teachers. The twelve themes and the subthemes follow:

  1. Understand and Meet Students' Needs
  2. Establish and Maintain Relationships with the Workplace
  3. Know the Workplace
  4. Communicate Effectively about School-to-Work Programs
  5. Be Adaptable and Open to Change
  6. Demonstrate Positive Attitudes Toward Work
  7. Be Professional in Appearance and Conduct
  8. Apply School Learning to the Workplace
  9. Know Schools and Schooling
  10. Be Knowledgeable and Competent in Teaching Area
  11. Be Creative and Innovative in Teaching
  12. Be Committed to Teaching

Discussion and Implications

Our results support the need for both vocational and academic teachers to be well-prepared for conducting school-to-work transition activities. Not only must teachers be skilled at teaching but they should also be able to forge and maintain linkages between the school and the workplace. When we sought to align teachers' activities that contribute to school-to-work success with the characteristics they need to conduct these activities, we soon found that the task was complex. Employing a matrix, we identified teacher characteristics that contribute to each of the activity areas. To do this, we selected and described those characteristics that had the best fit with each of the ten activity areas. The matrix offers more detailed information about the knowledge, attitudes, and competence teachers must have to be effective contributors to students' school-to-work transition.

The study results have implications for four target groups: (1) practicing teachers, (2) prospective teachers, (3) administrators, and (4) persons in the workplace. Practicing teachers of both vocational and academic subjects can benefit from examining the findings and assessing their own knowledge, attitudes, and competence through comparison with what is needed for school-to-work transition success. Essential teacher characteristics and examples of their use can serve as a model for professional development. By reviewing the statements made by interviewees, teachers should gain insight about how they can establish and maintain positive relationships with workplace representatives, how they can simulate workplace experiences in their own instruction, and how they can help their students gain first-hand knowledge about the workplace. Teachers will also find extensive support for the importance of work in students' lives and the valuable contributions work experiences can make to each and every student.

Prospective teachers can also benefit from the study findings. Teacher educators can use the discussion matrix to orient prospective teachers so they learn about important school-to-work activities. Discussion can help prospective teachers learn about characteristics they will need to conduct school-to-work activities successfully. Interviewees' comments provided in the findings can serve as the basis for developing role-playing situations where prospective teachers practice use of the characteristics in ways that they might be applied in actual school-to-work settings. Through role-playing, prospective teachers can determine why some behaviors may be perceived as both helping and hindering school-to-work efforts.

Administrators who review the findings and accompanying discussion should quickly recognize the importance of involving all teachers in school-to-work activities and providing school-to-work opportunities for all students. It is particularly important for administrators to provide opportunities for teachers to interact with persons in the workplace. In addition, administrators need to provide opportunities for teachers to work in professional teams, especially teams that include workplace representatives. As the findings reveal, successful school-to-work programs require the commitment and cooperation of all school personnel.

Persons in the workplace should gain insight into the complexities teachers confront when conducting school-to-work activities. For example, among the concerns stated by workplace representatives was that teachers focused only on their own subject matter and did not have a realistic perspective regarding today's and tomorrow's workplace. This concern may be reduced if persons from the workplace have greater contact with educators and education. It is also important that persons in the workplace who will collaborate with school-to-work efforts learn about teachers' concerns regarding school-to-work transition and understand how they can help teachers to conduct successful school-to-work activities. The opinions of workplace representatives and the roles they play in implementing school-to-work transition are critical to the success of this important reform.

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